Posted April 9, 2009
Here we go. The final home tilt of the regular season. In this magical run of consecutive good fortune the Canes have efficiently handled all kinds of conditions and opponents. Tonight thanks to Buffalo's win in Toronto last night, the game takes on more meaning.
For the opponents it's the never ending "Don't Stop Believing" theme. The Sabres have mathematical hope and need plenty of help to get there. If the NY Rangers take tonight's game against Philadelphia to overtime, that's it for the Niagara men. But if they lose, the Sabres HAVE to win here.
I say "it's all good" and the Canes could use a little push from the opponents tonight. Tuesday game was, well I'm sorry a "joke". The New Islanders came here with absolutely zero competitive zest and to the Hurricanes credit they kept on pushing and staying within their good winning principles. That's all well and good but once a team has clinched a spot in the post season the games that are left are little complex in terms of how they are played. If this was the Atlanta Thrashers or Toronto Maple Leafs or some other bound for the golf course lot, I don't think it would sit well. The Hurricanes are forced to be at attention. All you need to do is ask the New Jersey Devils about playing under clinched conditions. The last two weeks have been miserable and they still are searching for their total team game with time running out.
It's quite possible that the Canes would continue their remarkable roll, but I say by having this game take on a little more in the meaning department it will sharpen up the Canes. Buffalo will bring whatever they can muster from the goal out. If there is any team in the group that will likely not make the post season Buffalo is that team that directly point to injuries. By losing their number one goaltender Ryan Miller a few weeks ago to a high ankle sprain and their leading goal getter Thomas Vanek (broken jaw) these issues came at the wrong time. Now granted some of their erratic play has put them in this position but there is that proverbial "IF" that you could say at season's end. Miller, has returned and stated to me earlier this week that he is just "good enough" to play and Mr. Vanek although he scored a huge game winning goal last night has been mired in a late season scoring drought since he has returned. With all of this said, the Sabres will deliver a huge effort tonight based on where they are at and no love loss factor between the two clubs.
How does this all relate to our "Heroes of Ice". Well, let's not forget the home ice importance. Although the Hurricanes need a little Philly nose dive along with probably two more wins to finish in fourth they should absolutely want game seven in the first round in their own house. If the opponent is Philly I would absolutely want game one in Raleigh. It's the opportunity to validate the end of year run and to get an edge that they will need early. It was also makes the goaltending choice easy. Cam Ward will go for the 28th time in a row tonight. There is no way from a competitive standpoint it's fair to the other teams involved not to start the number one versus the Sabres. The Hurricanes might opt to give Mike Leighton the game in Newark on Saturday. OK, fine but I say keep Ward in rhythm now and let him finish it off. Leighton could have played against the lowly Islanders and it's obvious that it would not have mattered. He would have played his three periods and it would have been over. Now if he goes Saturday there is a chance your number one has a seven day layoff. Do the Hurricanes want that? Oh well there's always something to debate.
Getting back to tonight it's general operating procedure for the Canes. Cam Ward in goal, Joe Corvo back on defense and a line-up that will resemble that of game one of the playoffs with the exception of Matt Cullen. The opponents will have game seven mentality and it will be everything good for the Canes. It will be close and hotly contested and played the right way. It's all good for the home team. What hasn't been in the last two months?